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BC Seniors Advocate says our elderly population has lowest level of financial support in Canada

One-quarter of BC seniors earn less than $21,000 per year.

That’s according to a new report from the office of BC’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

The report also found that the province ranks dead-last in Canada when providing key financial support to its elderly population.

Here is a further breakdown of the provincial/territorial comparison:

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• All 13 provinces and territories, including B.C., offer subsidized medications for seniors and all provinces offer a form of property tax deferral for seniors who own their homes.

• 12 out of 13 provinces/territories offer a rent subsidy for seniors. B.C., with the highest rental market in the country, has the third lowest income cap for eligibility to receive a rent supplement.

• 6 out of 13 provinces/territories offer a seniors’ dental program – B.C. does not.

• 11 out of 13 provinces/territories provide an income supplement to low-income seniors. The amount of the supplement varies by province/territory, and B.C. offers the fourth lowest amount.

• 7 out of 13 provinces/territories fund hearing aids and 10 out of 13 have a home repair program for seniors – B.C. funds neither.

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• 12 out of 13 provinces/territories, including B.C., offer a program to fund home adaptations to make homes more accessible for people with disabilities or loss of ability.

• Out of nine key measures to support seniors, B.C. offers support for only two, the lowest number in the country

In an interview with Vista Radio, Mackenzie mentioned that modest incomes are having a much bigger impact than people realize.

“Poverty amongst seniors is far less visible than poverty amongst other groups in the population. I think we have to recognize that. We need to realize when you look at the future and what we have is going to create significantly bigger challenges down the road.”

“Pretty much half of the seniors in British Columbia have an income that is below the minimum wage. 25% or 1 out of every 4 seniors have an income that is below $21,000 a year. Those are very modest incomes.”

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“If you are a senior who owns your own home and it’s mortgage-free the challenges look one way. But, if you are a renter and two out of ten seniors are renters in this province, you have the same rent and expenses as everyone else, but they have incomes that are 66% higher,” added Mackenzie.

The average annual working-age income is more than double that at $51,170.

Even though the province has invested nearly two billion dollars since 2017 to upgrade senior care. This included spending on primary care, home health, long-term care, and assisted living as well as respite services.

However, Mackenzie stated not a lot of the funding went to the right places.

“None of it went to the extended health benefit that is needed, none of it went to eliminating the Home Support co-payment and very, very little of it went to the SAFER program (Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters program).”

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“No province gives everything to everybody. But, when you look across the country and say OK, what does this basket of services look like, you can’t just pick one service. It’s sort of this basket of services and we actually fall to the bottom and that was a surprise to me.”

“Most seniors are having to 100% of those costs themselves. Some seniors have private benefit plans but most don’t. I think that is under-appreciated the degree to which we are not offering support in any of those domains,” Mackenzie lamented.

Speaking of the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters program, the report issued by the Seniors Advocate office suggests the initiative is failing even though it is designed to limit seniors’ rent to 30% of their income.

However, SAFER recipients in Vancouver are spending over 60% of their income on rent and just over 80% of the program’s participants make less than $25,000 per year.

Prince George falls into Zone 2 of this program where the rent ceiling for single people is $767.

However, the issue in PG is not about the subsidy itself, it has more to do with the lack of quality living spaces available.

“If we get the SAFER subsidy right, that can address a big portion of the urban demand but in rural BC there is still no place for them to rent. BC Housing has to look at their role in rural BC around the provision of seniors housing because it has to look different than it has traditionally looked.”

“The other problem in communities like Prince George and arguably smaller communities is just simply the lack of a place to rent.”

Mackenzie added there has been a 78% spike in food bank usage by BC Seniors over the last five years.

A link to the full report can be found here.

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